Designing Cities for Everyone

2.5km of Toronto’s King Street was recently converted to transit priority. Transit demand drove the decision and now the street has room for on-street parklets and bike parking, and, now, transit actually works.

It’s always a welcome reminder that our little corner of the world isn’t alone in the need for transformation. Cities and towns across the world now realize that communities designed solely for driving large, motorized vehicles have cascading negative impacts for public health, wealth, and wellbeing.

When it comes to technical solutions to public transportation problems, the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) is an indispensable resource. Their urban guides, education program, and news feed are rooted in the values and ethics our communities need and deserve from transportation planners and engineers.

Last month, I attended NACTO’s Designing Cities 2019 in Toronto. I’ll be processing the week of workshops, tours, keynotes, and connections for a long time. However, for a taste of the experience I’ve collected a running recap of the week from my own tweets and, those of a few of other attendees,  from #NACTO19 or #NACTO2019. I explored bike parking, intersection design, bike lanes, designing cities for children, congestion pricing, corridor planning, ethics, and more.

The right words from local elected officials.  

Toronto’s best examples of protected bike lanes could be found right outside the front door of the conference center. 

“If you design streets for kids, you design a future that will work for everyone.”

If you haven’t read Janette Sadik-Khan, you need to: Street Fight

Don’t give up on those giant intersections. We workshopped some of Toronto’s most difficult intersections. Lesson: control speeds -> save lives. 

Walkshops took us deep into the pedestrian world of Downtown Toronto. Have you walked the PATH

Where do you park 25,000 bikes? It’s easier than parking 25,000 cars, but still takes a lot of planning. 

Toronto had too much random graffiti. Solution? Treat it as public art and incentivize it where you want it. 

What about ethics? Equity? 

Not everything can be summed up in one tweet and Tuesday’s plenary is an example. It is not your normal engineering conference lineup and, yet, Desiree Williams-Rajee had attendees attention with her address that asked, “Why is equity practice an imperative for people who work in government?” Fundamental to her presentation was diving into the question: who has the power to make change? Are their people shirking their power? Are others kept from having the power? How do we limit ourselves?

Williams-Rajee gave 5 reasons why government must advance equity.

  1. Fairness and Moral Obligation: Is government serving everyone, or only the privilege few?
  2. Collective Action: Inequality inhibits development and positive change by limiting who is allowed to provide input.
  3. Resilient Design: Are those who will suffer most from challenges like climate change afforded the proper consideration they deserve?
  4. Fiscal Responsibility: Equity is a fiscal necessity. When cities are designed for everyone, outcomes of public health, wealth, and well-being see positive returns.
  5. Regulatory Responsibility: The job is to protect the public. If that responsibility is not being fully expressed, then it is time to shift the norms.

She left the room full of transportation engineers, planners, and advocates with this question: Have you shied away from your power? 

Onward. #EngageandRepresent